Some of you may remember a few years back when myself and Dan unexpectedly became the official faces of a short lived pork snack…
For anyone new to the party, we entered a film competition on a whim asking for “a new comedy double act.” The prize was £2,000 and the opportunity to be the “faces of Wicked Pig pork snacks” – whatever that meant. For a laugh we entered. We didn’t think we’d win.
Anyway, we won.
That wiped the smile off our faces.
Our winning entry was a film called Disparate Set Pieces, which followed myself and Dan playing caricatured versions of ourselves, attempting to make a competition-winning short film to enter into the Wicked Pig competition. Get us and our postmodernism.
We shot it in a “found footage” home video style, and amused ourselves with the idea that somebody might mistake the idiot characters of “Dan and Richard” for real people. We kind of suspected that nobody would find it funny unless they knew us, and we were fine with that. But it turns out we were wrong.
If you’d like to watch it, here it is, otherwise scroll down for the rest of the story…
One of the weirdest things about Disparate Set Pieces is that it now acts as a bizarre time capsule of that period in our lives. The reality and the fiction look very similar.
But let us take a moment to contemplate the situation we were now in. We actually were THE FACES OF WICKED PIG PORK SNACKS. Somewhat nervously we had to ask, what exactly did that entail?
Dan and I were taken out to lunch by a chap from the marketing agency who dreamt up the competition. He explained to us their grand plan, which involved us promoting the snacks by appearing at live comedy events and festivals, and who knows where else. But first things first, we would be given a YouTube channel on which to put whatever comedy videos we liked.
I know what you’re thinking: this is a bit of a rubbish prize.
Dan and I already had a YouTube channel. We had been putting films up on the Bakery portfolio for ages by this point. So why should we be excited? Well, apparently they were going to pay for loads of advertising to drive traffic towards our videos. Oh, and every packet of Wicked Pig pork snacks would have the web address stytv.co.uk written on them. This basic promotional website (long since disappeared of course) is briefly seen in Disparate Set Pieces, when Dan reads the competition information from it, and plays a clip which describes StyTV as an “omline web station.” From now on, stytv.co.uk was going to have our new YouTube videos embedded in it.
But what would these videos even look like? Dan and I retreated to a pub in Canterbury (the New Inn on Havelock street, fact fans) for some frenzied brainstorming.
The idea we came up with was challenge videos. After all, Disparate Set Pieces had followed the story of two characters attempting the challenge of making a film. So it made sense if future videos followed a similar concept, with a new challenge each time. So we asked the marketing agency to set us simple challenges which we could then use as the starting point for each video.
Instead of the deadpan fiction of Disparate Set Pieces however, Dan and I would present these videos as more or less our real selves. Obviously the situations we found ourselves in would be contrived, and we would play up to the camera, but we would essentially do everything for real, without orchestrating or faking scenes. We talked about people like Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman, who appear to create ridiculous situations for themselves but then attempt to live and document them for real.
The first challenge was: try to make a million pounds from a fiver.
We weren’t really sure what we were doing, or if it would work, but here’s the video we came up with…
The marketing agency seemed pretty happy with this first episode, and we thought it was a decent starting point for the series.
Incidentally, the version embedded above is a newly uploaded edit (December 2015). But it is almost exactly the same as the version originally released on YouTube in 2010, except now hosted on our own Vimeo channel. But more on this later.
In rewatching the film 5 or so years later, Dan has this to say:
“Now I have the distance of intervening years, I think (egg portraits) are a genius idea. They are brilliantly shit. They are a personal portrait, which kind of lulls the recipient into thinking they might have worth and justifies us selling them for any money at all. But at the same time they are completely impractical. You can’t put them on a wall or on your mantlepiece, and they are immediately inconvenient as soon as you buy them. How the hell do you keep it when walking about? You can hardly put it in your pocket or bag. You literally have to carry it. We didn’t even provide an egg box! And because the customer bought it, they can hardly just throw it away without admitting they’d just wasted a quid. On top of that, they are just bizarre. Someone’s face on an egg. It’s beautifully childish: egg shape = head shape. And best of all, we aren’t actually that good at painting them!”
This is true. On top of which, the eggs weren’t even boiled, so they were all fragile. In fact, as an aside, our own egg self-portraits were donated to the IT office where we both worked at the time, and they actually remained at that office longer than we did.
Anyway, back to the film itself…
It’s clear to see in the first scene that Dan is appearing as himself and not playing the fictional caricature from Disparate Set Pieces. Plus real people feature throughout this episode, interacting with us for real, in spontaneous encounters. No acting.
Yet interestingly, among the small amount of online chatter we found discussing this first episode, was some criticism that we were fictionalising the whole thing. I remember one guy specifically claiming that we must have known the busker. The truth is, I have no idea who that busker is. I didn’t get his name, and I never met him before or since. 90% of my total experience of that man is contained within the video. The footage of us asking him to busk for us is genuine. He really did just park up next to us and start busking unannounced. Those foreign girls really did just magically appear and give him money. He really did improvise that egg song on the spot.
The only thing we didn’t manage to capture on camera is the moment he clearly decided we were weirdos, and he ran off without saying goodbye. He literally just scarpered up the high street seemingly embarrassed, perhaps worried that we might ask more of him. To this day he probably has no idea he features in this video.
The same goes for the guy with the pink glasses, to whom we sell our first egg portrait. He was not a mate of ours. He was a stranger. To tell the truth that is probably my favourite part of the film, as he tries to explain to his friend on the phone that he is getting his portrait painted on an egg, and he has to say it three times, “yeah I’m getting my portrait painting on an egg…” That scene sums up what we were trying to achieve: to make comical things happen in real life, and to get it on camera via our double act.
We had plenty of friends in Canterbury who we could have called on, but we wanted to create encounters with real strangers. Like the people we hitched a lift to the festival with. Or the little girls who genuinely did descend on me and start painting our eggs. We didn’t plan that. We didn’t invite them to paint the eggs, and we certainly didn’t ask them to go and steal kebabs off people for us.
The only “fictional” bits were the montage of us marching around London, Apprentice-style, pretending to work in the City, along with Dan’s laptop Powerpoint presentation on the train. But we felt like these were clearly signposted as jokey bits, in an otherwise true film.
We were still finding our feet, but we were optimistic for the future of the challenge videos.
And then something odd happened…
The marketing agency asked us for a promotional video to entice people to watch the first episode.
We said this was weird. Why make a YouTube video to encourage people to watch a YouTube video? Why not just let us carry on making a steady stream of new YouTube videos? Why waste time promoting a video with other videos? That’s like having a billboard that directs you to another billboard that has the actual advert on it.
Anyway, just to keep them happy, we made a video that was 2 minutes 5 seconds long, wherein Dan and I addressed the camera and introduced episode one. As there was nothing for us to actually do in this rather unnecessary video, and because the agency wanted it immediately, we reverted to our old Disparate Set Pieces characterisations. It was easier that way.
Here is the full 2 minutes 5 seconds which we sent them, but which ultimately went unused.
When the agency received this, they decided to cut the beginning bit with me and Dan on the sofa, and instead just kept the last 30 seconds, which we had hurriedly thrown together in the edit. Oh well. It was slightly annoying that we’d gone through the palaver of making it, but not as annoying as the fact that they apparently wanted yet another introduction video, this time about 1 minute long and introducing the series as a whole. They wanted this very quickly, so we hurriedly shot some daft clips of us in and around our house, and edited them together. We didn’t have time to think about it. We just shot and edited it, with me on voiceover duty announcing “this is Dan” and “this is Richard” and so on.
We have subsequently grafted the resultant 56 second trailer onto the front of the Vimeo edit of episode one (embedded further up this post). After which the episode properly starts with me and Dan at a pub bench (The Unicorn’s beer garden in case you’re wondering). But the original YouTube version released by the marketing agency did not include this.
So at this point the marketing agency had our first episode, plus a hurriedly made introduction video (which they only wanted 30 seconds of) and a thrown-together 56 second trailer. And what did they do? They paid to get online exposure for the 56 second trailer which we had knocked together in an hour, rather than the full episode which we had slaved over. The trailer got about 40,000 views. Whereas episode one… didn’t.
We started to get the distinct impression that the marketing agency didn’t quite get YouTube. And that their previous claim that they would be able to drive lots of traffic to our challenge videos was hot air.
It seemed obvious to us: if you want to promote a video, promote the video. Don’t promote an additional video which introduced the video you should actually be promoting.
If (as seemed to be the case) the agency’s actions suggested they were only confident in pushing short videos of 1 minute or so, then why didn’t they ask us for short videos only? But no, when we asked them, they were perfectly happy with the 10 minute format of the challenges. It was kind of like they were mistaking YouTube for traditional TV, where programmes need advertising with trailers.
Even more worryingly, the agency uploaded our YouTube introduction with the eye-wateringly ill-advised title of “Funny Comedy – Sty TV Winners’ introduction.”
Aside from the obvious tautology, it seemed an appalling idea to shove the words “funny comedy” in people’s faces, because it almost begs them to disagree. Why not give it a title like “Introducing the Wicked Pig Challenges.”
But no matter. Surely the marketing agency had lots more up their sleeve yet. And they had barely interfered with our actual first episode, so they were clearly happy with the direction we were going in. With filming due to start on episode two, we patiently awaited our next challenge to arrive.
What could possibly go wrong?
The answer, it turns out, was quite a lot.
The story continues in next week’s blog post…